Sumatran Orangutan Becomes Adoptive Mother
December 27, 2016
Matra, a Sumatran Orangutan at Hellabrunn Zoo, is known as good-natured and an affectionate mother to her offspring. She was born in 1975 and has made her home at the Zoo since 1993. In early October, she gave birth to a lovely little boy.
Not long after the birth of Matra’s boy, 13-year-old Jahe also welcomed a baby into the world. For Jahe, who is a relatively young and inexperienced mother, this represents her first successful pregnancy. The father of the two new arrivals is Bruno (the head of the group), making the two infants half-siblings.
Orangutans are typically solitary animals, but social bonds often form between adult females and their offspring. Keepers report that Jahe experienced apprehension and was overwhelmed soon after her baby’s birth. She willingly handed over her offspring to experienced mom, Matra, who has happily taken on the role of raising both babies. For several days, zookeepers began to notice that, in addition to her own son, Matra was carrying a second baby in her arms and breastfeeding both infants.
"As long as Matra produces enough milk, which she does, she can raise the two babies without any problem," says curator Beatrix Köhler. "The fact that Matra is caring for both babies is not so uncommon. This behavior is known to occur among Orangutans in their natural habitat, as well as in zoos. In the past, zoos have observed that the most experienced mum in the group takes care of all new offspring. This is a great relief for Jahe. One can observe that although she always watches Matra from afar, she is not interested in the child."
Photo Credits: Hellabrunn Zoo / Marc Müller
Matra, who has lived at Hellabrunn since 1993, is now a mother for the sixth time. Her daughter Jolie, born in 2009 at Hellabrunn, also lives with her. She and the other female members of the group, Sitti and Isalie, have now become accustomed to the new situation with the two new babies.
"To give Matra some privacy with the babies we have decided to create a temporary retreat space that will be screened off from the public, placing greater distance between the visitors and the animals", explains Köhler. "This allows Matra to decide when she wants to show off her offspring."
Furthermore, the retreat space and the screen, which will be in place until further notice, will also ensure that the other Orangutans continue to feel at ease in the group. "Bruno, in particular, loves the attention of visitors and, despite the new additions to the group, would like to be noticed by you," adds Köhler, who is in constant contact with the keepers and is confident that Matra will be able to handle the situation with two babies well.
Bruno, Hellabrunn's oldest Orangutan, has become a dad thirty times over. In addition to the two newborns, two of his daughters, Isalie and Jolie, also live at Hellabrunn Zoo. He was born in 1969 in Munich. However, he is not the oldest Orangutan residing in a scientifically managed zoo. The oldest is a 60-year-old Sumatran Orangutan, named Puan, who lives in Perth. His achievement is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records.
The Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) is found on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. They are currently classified as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.
For many years, Hellabrunn has been involved in a project with the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which operates a reintroduction station on Sumatra in the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park. The station is located in the center of Sumatra in an area where Orangutans had become extinct for more than 150 years. The aim of the project is to build a lifeboat population for the Sumatran Orangutan at Bukit Tigapuluh through the reintroduction of the species. Over a period of months, confiscated and orphaned animals are prepared for release into the wild. With great success to date, the project has reintroduced more than 160 Orangutans.